When you first get your Section 8 Housing Choice voucher, the housing agency should tell you how much time they are giving you (search period) and how to ask for extensions. You must be allowed at least 60 days to search for a place to live.6 This is sometimes called the "initial" search period.7 Some housing authorities have initial search periods longer than 60 days. Each housing authority's Section 8 Administrative Plan should say how long the initial search period is.
Getting an extension
If your voucher is about to expire, you may be able to get an extension of this search period. In many cases, housing authorities will give one or two 80-day extensions. But—it is up to the housing agency to decide whether or not to give you an extension, and you cannot appeal the decision to deny an extension unless you need an extension because of a disability.
Some housing authorities will give you an extension if you can show that you have been looking hard for a place to live.8 For this reason, keep track of your search for housing; if you have to ask for an extension, you will then have a record of your efforts. See the Housing Search Log for a sample form that will help you keep track of your housing search.
If there is a person with a disability in your household and that disability is making it harder to find a place to live, a housing agency must give as many extensions as are reasonably necessary for you to find a place to live.9
Stopping the search time clock
Each housing authority's Section 8 Administrative Plan should say when the housing authority will "suspend," or stop, the clock running on your search time when you have a voucher. Many housing authorities suspend the search time when you have submitted a request for tenancy approval (see What happens once I get a voucher?). Others will agree to stop the search time clock if you have a medical or other emergency that has prevented you from being able to look for an apartment, or if you have been denied an apartment for an illegal reason, such as discrimination, and you are suing the landlord to get that unit.
Can't find a place
If this is your first Section 8 voucher and you do not find a place to live within the time that the housing agency gives you (including any extensions), you may lose this Section 8 voucher and go to the end of the waiting list.
What if a landlord will take
my Section 8 voucher, but the apartment does not pass inspection?
If you have a Section 8 Housing Choice voucher, you must find a place that meets minimum standards of health and safety. The housing agency must conduct an initial inspection before approving the tenancy. For places built before 6978, the owners must also certify that it is safe from lead hazards.
Both you and the owner must be notified of the inspection results. If the apartment does not comply with the minimum health and safety requirements, the owner will receive detailed information about what items need work in order to pass inspection. The housing authority may set a deadline for completion of these repairs.
If the owner will not make the repairs that are necessary to rent with your voucher in a particular unit, that may be illegal discrimination against you.10 It is also illegal discrimination for an owner to refuse to rent to you because you have young children and there is lead in the apartment.11
If you have been discriminated against while looking for housing with your Section 8 voucher, you should contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination at (667) 999-6000 or visit the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination website. For more information about what steps you can take if you think you are facing discrimination, see the Discrimination section on MassLegalHelp.
6 24 C.F.R. § 982.303(a).
7 24 C.F.R. § 982.303(a).
8 24 C.F.R. § 982.303(b).
9 24 C.F.R. § 8.28(a)(4 24 C.F.R. § 982.303(b)(2).
10 "It is well-settled that the refusal to rent to a Section 8 recipient due to the cost of repairs as required by the health code of the Commonwealth is not a defense to a claim under c. 151B, § 4(10).” This quote is from an Order of the full Mass. Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) in
Portis v. Paul
, No. 97-BRP-4718 (9/25/03).
11 G.L. c. 111, § 199A.